The Light of the World
Yeshua (Jesus), the Master told His disciples:
“I am the light of the world. The one who follows Me will no longer walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” -John 8:12
On another occasion, He instructed them:
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a basket. Instead, they put it on a lampstand so it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men so they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” -Matthew 5:14-16
In the same way, it is traditional to place the Hanukkah menorah in a window so that its light radiates outward and illuminates the darkness of the outside world. So may it be with us.
In this series over the next several days, we will go through the history of the past, the warnings for today and the joy that will culminate when the True Light of the World returns in all His Majesty and Glory.
The History of Hanukkah
Hanukkah is a Jewish holiday commemorating the rededication of the Holy Temple (the Second Temple) in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt against the Seleucid Empire, a major center of Hellenistic culture that maintained the preeminence of Greek customs.
It is observed for eight nights and days, starting on the 25th day of Kislev according to the Hebrew calendar, which may occur at any time from late November to late December in the Gregorian calendar.
It is also known as the Festival of Lights and the Feast of Dedication, commemorating an important Jewish victory over tyranny.
Except for its mention in the book of John, it is not a biblical festival. Unlike the festivals of described in Leviticus 23, Hanukkah is not an “appointed time” from the Torah.
Instead, the celebration of Hanukkah began after the last book of the Hebrew Scriptures had been composed. By the time of the Apostles, however, it had become a long-established tradition. The events that Hanukkah commemorates occurred some 160 years before the birth of Yeshua.
The festival is observed by lighting the candles of a candelabrum with nine branches, called a Hanukkah menorah (or hanukkiah). One branch is typically placed above or below the others and its candle is used to light the other eight candles.
This unique candle is called the shamash (Hebrew: שמש, "attendant"). Each night, one additional candle is lit by the shamash until all eight candles are lit together on the final night of the holiday.
Other Hanukkah festivities include playing dreidel and eating oil-based foods such as doughnuts and latkes.
The Story of Hanukkah
The story of Hanukkah is preserved in the books of the First and Second Maccabees, which describe in detail the re-dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem and the lighting of the menorah. These books are not part of the Tanach (Hebrew Bible) but are part of the Apocryphal Books found in the Catholic and some Orthodox Bibles.
The story is told of how Judah Maccabee and his heroic band of freedom fighters overthrew the tyrannical Seleucid forces that had subdued Judea and defiled the Jerusalem Temple.
After recapturing Jerusalem, Judah Maccabee and his followers purified and rededicated the Temple. The altar that had been defiled with pagan sacrifices was dismantled and a new one was built.
The menorah, the altar for incense, the table of the bread of the presence, and the curtain before the Holy of Holies were all replaced.
When their work was complete, they established the 25th day of Kislev as the date for the rededication of the Temple because that date was the anniversary of the day on which the Temple had been defiled three years before.
To celebrate the restoration of God’s Holy Temple, all Jerusalem rejoiced for eight days. Judah Maccabee declared that future generations should rejoice annually during those eight days to remember the miracles of the Temple’s dedication.
A Time of Trouble
The events behind Hanukkah happened during the turbulent years of the disintegration of Alexander the Great’s Grecian Empire and the rise of the iron-clawed Roman Empire.
In those days, the land of Israel found itself buffeted between world powers that sought to use her as a natural land bridge between Africa and Europe/Asia. The people of Israel were the victims of great political upheavals. War was never far from their land.
In the meantime, another war was being waged among the people of Israel. Alexander’s conquests had introduced the world to Greek language, thought, custom, and philosophy.
Greek education had become a universal standard. Western art, science, athletics, literature, and religion had infiltrated the East, and the land of Israel was no exception.
Many Jews fell under the sway of Hellenism and embraced the Greek worldview with open arms.
Instead of Torah, philosophy.
Instead of mitzvot, virtues and aesthetics.
Instead of revelation, reason.
Instead of Lord , the gods of Olympus.
Around 200 BCE, the land of Israel was conquered by the Seleucid dynasty as part of their ongoing campaign against the Egyptian-based Ptolemies.
In the year 175 BCE, Antiochus IV inherited the Seleucid throne and declared himself Epiphanes.
He asserted that he was divine.
Antiochus ordered all of his subjects to erect and worship statues of himself in their temples.
In addition, he sought to unify his territorial holdings by imposing a strict Hellenism. The Greek language became mandatory. Greek culture and religion were also required.
Hellenist Jews brought a gymnasium to Jerusalem and a godless Hellenist Jew (named Jason) was even appointed as High Priest.
Jerusalem Sacked by Antiochus
In 169 BCE, Antiochus’s army suffered a humiliating defeat in their Egyptian campaign when Roman intervention (ships from Kittim) put a halt to their advance.
Shamed and angry, Antiochus turned his army back north to return through the land of Israel.
When news reached him of civil unrest in Jerusalem, however, he sacked the city indiscriminately and slaughtered thousands of citizens.
During this siege, he entered the Holy Temple and stole the gold and silver, including the incense altar, the table, and the menorah.
After Antiochus had defeated Egypt in the year one hundred and forty-three[circa 170 BCE], he returned and went up to Israel and to Jerusalem with a strong force. He insolently invaded the sanctuary and took away the golden altar, the lampstand for the light with all its fixtures, the offering table, the cups and the bowls, the golden censers, the curtain, the crowns, and the golden ornament on the façade of the temple. He stripped off everything, and took away the gold and silver and the precious vessels; he also took all the hidden treasures he could find. Taking all this, he went back to his own country, after he had spoken with great arrogance and shed much blood. And there was great mourning for Israel, in every place where they dwelt. (1 Maccabees 1:20–25)
This was just the beginning.
Abomination of Desolation
And forces from him will arise, desecrate the sanctuary fortress, and do away with the regular sacrifice. And they will set up the abomination of desolation. (Daniel 11:31)
Not long after that, Antiochus issued orders that all nations under his power were to immediately relinquish their various religions and cultures and embrace Greek culture and faith.
This was especially problematic for the Torah-based culture and religion of Judea. In fact, the edicts were specifically aimed at the Jews.
The daily sacrifices were discontinued. The Jerusalem Temple was converted into a Temple to Zeus. On the 15th day of Kislev an image of Zeus was erected in the Temple (the Abomination of Desolation). Ten days later, they began to sacrifice swine to the idol upon the altar of Lord.
Antiochus also issued orders forbidding circumcision, Sabbath observance, kosher diets, and the study of Torah.
The text of Maccabees records that those who attempted to live out the Torah paid with their lives.
On the fifteenth day of the month Kislev, in the year one hundred and forty-five [168 BCE], the king erected the horrible abomination upon the altar of holocausts, and in the surrounding cities of Judah they built pagan altars. They also burnt incense at the doors of houses and in the streets.
Any Torah scrolls which they found they tore up and burnt. Whoever was found with a scroll of the covenant, and whoever observed the Torah was condemned to death by royal decree.
So they used their power against Israel, against those who were caught, each month, in the cities. On the twenty-fifth day of each month they sacrificed on the altar erected over the altar of holocausts. Women who had their children circumcised were put to death, in keeping with the decree, with the babies hung from their necks; their families also and those who had circumcised them were killed.
But many in Israel were determined and resolved in their hearts not to eat anything unclean; they preferred to die rather than to be defiled with unclean food or to profane the holy covenant; and they did die. Terrible affliction was upon Israel. (1 Maccabees 1:54–64)
We will pick up the rest of the story in our next post.